The Untold Connection Between Health, Fitness, and Sustainability
Why there’s no separating a world full of plastic from our Optimum Fitness Levels. Olive’s New Year’s resolution was simple: to drink more water throughout the day and focus on her fitness. Like millions of people, Olive’s life was busy, but she made a commitment to avoid getting lost in her daily to-do list and make time to nurture her health by maximizing her daily water intake and sticking to a workout regimen.
Olive researched the “healthiest” water, and she decided to buy the water with the most convincing gimmick. High alkaline water for active people? Sure, why not. She calculated how much water she would need for one month and purchased a few plastic cases to store in her garage. Olive started feeling great, working out regularly, eating a diet high in raw fruits and vegetables and drinking the amount of water she was supposed to be drinking.
On top of everything, Olive felt proud that she was filling her recycling bin to the brim with all of the empty water bottles she consumed. It was her proof to herself that she was taking her new year’s resolution seriously, meeting her New Year’s goals. The year was looking like an extra healthy one for Olive, or was it?
What happens when we realize that our “healthy” choices, like drinking water from single-use plastic bottles, were some of the most devastating decisions we could be making? Unhealthy, not only for us but for the health of others, for wildlife, for ocean health which circles back to the seafood we eat. Olive may not consider herself an “environmentalist,” but how can she be living a healthier life if she is contributing to the plastic pollution that affects all aspects of our world?
What many of us don’t realize is that wherever we are in our fitness journey, it can be linked directly back to what’s going on in our environment. Fitness and the environment are often discussed as something separate from each other, but they aren’t. Our bodies and our environment are interlocked in a dance that we can never (and should never want to) escape.
The relationship between our bodies and the environment serves as a feedback mechanism. For example, let’s say that there’s a foul gas-like odor in your neighborhood and you link it to the headache you get every morning. The foul smell is environmental, and it’s giving you a sign that perhaps it’s tied to the pain in your brain.
But what if you have a poor sense of smell and you aren’t aware that there’s an odor, but you still have a headache? Your headache is a feedback mechanism telling you that something isn’t quite right in your environment. Now let’s say you go for a run, but the smell and your headache cut your run a little short, you’ve just experienced a direct relationship between your fitness and your environment. You’re a bit peeved that this odor prevented you from your full workout, so you call your city to make an environmental complaint because you want to be able to run freely without pollution hindering you. So, you see, our health and our environmental health are always connected, sometimes in more obvious ways (like this), but often in ways we can’t see with our naked eye.
We can all agree that it’s better to breathe fresh air, eat clean food, and escape to beautiful natural landscapes. When we make our purchasing decisions aimed at nourishing our mind and body, we are also making decisions that will either make or break the nourishment of our environment. An environment that feeds back to us either clean or dirty air, clean or polluted soil for our food, and clean or dirty oceans is all dependent on the choices we make as a society and as individuals. It’s a cycle that we are a part of in every way imaginable.
Olive's story is, quite frankly, the same story any of us have when trying to do the right thing. No one told Olive that the very same single-use plastic bottled water she chose to drink to increase her health and wellness was made from petroleum. No one said to her that her plastic bottled water carries toxins, microplastics, and hormone disrupters into her system. Nor did anyone tell Olive that the very same single-use plastic bottles that have a recycling label on the bottom were not getting recycled because our plastic recycling system is an irreparably broken mess.
Did Olive even know that her plastic bottles almost always get sent to the landfill? That, if they don’t go to the illegal recycling facilities in Malaysia, they are incinerated and poisoning the Malaysian people? Olive feels good about her recycling bin practices. But even if Olive knew about where her single-use plastic bottles ended up, what could she do?
Let’s not forget about China, once our biggest recycling partner. China has stopped taking the world’s plastic recyclables because they literally grew sick of our plastic which was polluting their environment. Our exported plastics were mostly unrecyclable trash that China was forced to discard in their landfills or burn in incinerators. Toxins from burned plastics enter the air and contribute to the biggest premature killer of our time, according to the World Health Organization— air pollution.
The fact is, as busy consumers, we see very few packaging alternatives to the quick-grab, single-use plastic water bottle, that is, if we even know to look for an alternative. So, without realizing it, every time we make the “healthy” option of drinking water from plastic, we are contributing to the many toxins that are poisoning our environment and our bodies.
Whether we realize it or not, we are all part of the environmental movement, especially those of us who strive to be fit and healthy. All of the tiny decisions you make every day-- taking your trash to the dumpster vs. composting, recycling vs. refusing plastics, drinking water vs. drinking soda, or taking vitamins vs. pharmaceuticals-- can either contribute to or take away from, your health and the health of the environment.
Our health to environmental impact ratio is more like an equation, and it looks different for everyone. There is no separation of a healthy body and a healthy environment, this is 100% a part of the environmental movement. The faster we realize this, the faster we take a stand for our genuine health and wellness. You cannot have true health and wellness without a clean environment.
What about the Inescapable Problem of Microplastics?
The majority of people don’t realize that 90% of the plastics we use NEVER GET RECYCLED. Never, as in 90% of all plastic ends up in landfills, oceans, rivers, and lakes. Waterways have become a minefield for sea animals who consume them and die or live to pass their plastics on to the animal that consumes them.
How can we strive for full wellness for our bodies and minds when environmental conditions are preventing us from optimal health, likely even killing us sooner than necessary? How can we drink water out of a bottle made of plastic, which is derived from crude oil, and expect fully optimized health? How can our workouts be 100% positive when we are consuming microplastics as we hydrate through them?
Every drink of water we take to replenish our bodies during an extra hard workout is now full of microplastics. The organic farmer’s market meal we prepped with a touch of sea salt is now polluted with microplastics. Researchers have now found microplastics in organic fertilizers that come from food waste. There is no escaping the plastics that have taken over our environment, and there is no separation between our environment and individual health.
In a recent study, researchers found that microplastics cause neurotoxicity and lipid peroxidation, which impacts full brain function as well as the peripheral nervous system, resulting in cell membrane damage. The consumption of microplastics can lead to neurodegeneration, cancer, inflammatory diseases, atherosclerosis, aging, and cardiovascular diseases. The damaging effects of microplastics are the reasons why we need to start questioning our healthy buying decisions and consider if we are wrongfully overlooking the plastic factor. While we develop a greater understanding of the damage plastics are doing to our bodies, we must remember that this is a feedback mechanism for the damage we have done to our earth.
Why Packaging Materials Matter to Health and Fitness
More people are becoming aware of the mind/body health concept. Mind-body medicine practice is not new. Before the Renaissance and Enlightenment eras, this was a widely practiced concept in the Western world.
People are again looking at complementary and alternative medicines, the tried and true practices that go beyond our reliance on the current disease-based models. The focus is shifting to the way the mind, body, brain, and environment affect our health as individuals and as collective communities. But even when you consider all of the good that comes from herbal supplementation, yoga, exercise, and dietary improvements, you lose full potential when outside forces like plastic pollution and microplastics sneak into your efforts for longevity, vitality, and well-being.
Going on a four-hour hike in the California hills is an excellent workout for both your mind and body. However, if you are breathing toxic air from fires, it might have the opposite effect on your health. Recent California fires have been the hottest burning on record, and the conditions that created these devastating fires have been linked to climate change. Climate change is exacerbated by humans who are manipulating carbon, i.e., drilling petroleum and fracking. Now, look back at your hiking buddy’s plastic water bottle. What is that made from? Petroleum. Consider all of the other petroleum-derived, single-use plastics in our everyday lives, and point a big ole judgy finger at those things (well, the people who make them) because they are all part of the problem. A very local, very personal issue that affects us all.
More directly, if we shop for organic fruits and vegetables but find our foods are wrapped in plastic (yoohoo, Trader Joe’s), how is this plastic packaging affecting the quality and state of our foods? And, bigger picture, the petrol that was required to make those organic food plastic containers, how are those containers contributing to or taking away from our health, both personal and environmental? If we shopped with the bigger picture of our health in mind, would we buy differently? If organic soil is now testing positive for the presence of toxic microplastics, are we really living the healthy life we are working so hard to achieve?
The Plastic Damage to Our Health & Our Environment
Here’s something to consider. We have all heard of that person who was healthy in every way. They were physically active, ate an organic and balanced diet, and they never smoked or consumed drugs or alcohol. Then they go to their regular doctor visit and are diagnosed with an autoimmune disease or cancer. Worse yet, they passed away. This happens more often than we should expect.
As we learn more about how food and beverage packaging can affect our health, we might need to ask: was this person meal-prepping? In what containers? Did this healthy person carry plastic bottled water with them everywhere they went? When they shopped for fresh foods, what were their fruits and vegetables packaged in? It’s scary to know that when we try our best to live a healthy existence, we are not told to be aware of packaging and what poisons that may be hiding in plain sight.
Plastic packaging dominates the market simply because it’s cheap and has high-profit margins. However, the chemicals that leach into our foods and water might be more costly to us, as consumers, because of the health effects associated with their use.
“Plastics found from water bottles, food wrappers, and even receipt papers, can cause “reproductive toxicity” in women, according to California’s Environmental Protection Agency. Specifically, it can disrupt hormone levels in a person’s body,” says Kate Sheridan.
We’ve only been drinking and eating out of plastic since the 1950s, and in the culture of “convenience,” the Health and Wellness Industry has been lukewarm on the issues with plastic packaging. With all of the potential illnesses, cancers, and environmental concerns around the toxic chemicals in single-use plastics, it leaves us to wonder why hasn’t the Health and Wellness Industry tackled plastic as the problem child it has become for packaging.
Committing to a healthy lifestyle is committing to a future that you have the creativity to envision. It’s choosing a path where you know your hard work will pay off in the results you see. Every day is a chance to challenge yourself, to learn something new, and to push your body and your brain to its fullest capability. When we seriously take this challenge on, we are faced with the reality that our environment (clean air, food, and access to clean water) will either push us forward on our mission or hold us back from our full potential. Either way, it’s all related. Either way, we are all Olive. We’re on a mission to do the right thing, but we’re learning in the process, and in that, we are learning there is no separating our environment from our journey to optimum fitness.
PATH offers a hybrid model that is a reusable bottle filled with purified water, the first of its kind to hit the bottled water industry.
https://drinkpathwater.com/blogs/news/do-plastic-water-bottles-really-get-recycled https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-46518747 https://www.greenbiz.com/article/rise-plastic-insecurity-chinas-yangtze-river-economic-belt
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